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How Apple Commercials Have Changed Musicians' Careers

Featured songs in Apple ads have led to increased sales for many lesser-known artists

October 7, 2011 11:40 AM ET
matt costa apple commercial
Matt Costa performs in Los Angeles
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

With the iPod and the iTunes store – both of which allowed users to discover and consume music like never before – Steve Jobs and his company gave musicians a simple and direct route to listeners' ears. But Apple's commercials for these new products also encouraged a similar sense of musical excavation. While tracks by stadium-fillers like U2, Coldplay and Paul McCartney were featured, ads featuring catchy songs by lesser-known artists became the brand's calling card – and audiences responded.

"It's the kind of exposure you literally couldn't pay for in this day and age," says the Submarines' singer Blake Hazard. In 2008, Hazard and her bandmate John Dragonetti's jittery tune "You Me and the Bourgeoisie" was featured in an iPhone ad. Afterwards, "doors started to open," Hazard says. "It started to feel like we were a part of popular culture. It was incredibly surreal." British singer Jof Owen, whose indie-pop duo Boy Least Likely To's woozy ditty "Stringing Up Conkers" soundtracked an iPhone 3GS ad earlier this year, shares a similar sentiment. "I never thought it would be one of the songs that ended up changing my life," Owen says. "I have Apple to thank for that."

For musicians, the impact of being featured in one of Apple's ads revealed itself in different ways. Singer-songwriter Matt Costa, whose ballad "Mr. Pitiful" was used in a 2009 iPhone commercial, and whose album art for 2005's Songs We Sing was featured on both billboards and on the sides of urban buildings, had an unusual, rather repetitive reveal. "I'd be buying alcohol or using a credit card, and someone would say 'Oh, Matt Costa. Doesn't he make music or something?'” Costa says, adding, “When your name's on a big Apple ad, people start to recognize you a little more."

Renowned DJ, Cut Chemist, known for both his solo work and as a former member of both rap-troupe Jurassic 5 and Latin-fusion collective Ozomatli, was on a global tour when his track "The Audience is Listening Theme Song" began going into heavy rotation in an iPod Nano commercial. Chemist, born Lucas MacFadden, saw the results immediately. "As I was going to different places, I would see it – in England and then Japan," he says. "I still see the effect of that ad to this day."

Apple has also changed the way musicians – especially those with a more do-it-yourself mentality – feel about aligning their work with one of the world's largest corporations (or as they might put it, "selling out.") Wolfmother frontman Andrew Stockdale believes this is because Apple has made life far simpler for those in his line of work: he says he can't even count the number of demos he's done on his iPhone using the voice memo feature. The shaggy-maned Australian guitarist had originally planned to leave the rollicking track "Love Train" off his power rock crew's self-titled debut – that is, until Apple execs heard it and used it in a 2006 iPod commercial. Needless to say, Wolfmother ended up including the song on their album.

Looking back, Stockdale feels no remorse for lending his band's tune to an Apple ad. "I don't think anyone can take an ethical or moral higher stance and say that being involved in an Apple ad is too commercial," he says, quite emphatically. "Everyone is using (Apple's products)."

Boy Least Likely To's Owen even goes as far to say that Apple products have become "natural extensions" of his life. "There is so much humanity in [their] products," he says. "Steve Jobs changed the way we make and listen to music forever. He made it exciting again."

Related
• Steve Jobs Remembered
The Spirit of 1976: Steve Jobs, Jimmy Carter, the Ramones and a Climate of Hope
• Steve Jobs, Apple Founder, Dead at 56
• Tributes Pour In for Steve Jobs
• Rolling Stone's 1994 Interview With Steve Jobs
• Steve Jobs' Musical History
 The Birth of the Mac: Rolling Stone's 1984 Feature on Steve Jobs and his Whiz Kids
• Steve Jobs: Rolling Stone's 2003 Interview

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